Labor promised support for aged care wage rises and 24/7 nurses – but where will they find the cash and nurses to deliver?

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With the Federal Election now called in favour of Labor, new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese faces an immediate challenge: fulfilling the promises that saw his government elected.

While aged care seemed to slide down the list of election priorities for both sides of politics as the six-week campaign wore on, Labor had sought to make aged care one of its key priorities in a bid to appeal to voters.

Among his pledges, Mr Albanese said he would bring forward plans to increase the new direct care requirements in residential care, implement 24/7 Registered Nurses by mid-next year and support any decision made to increase wages for aged care workers by the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

Now that the votes are counted, the aged care peak bodies are calling on Labor to put its money where its mouth is.

But the new Government will be tested on all fronts.

The mandated 200 direct care minute requirements are already forecast to require around a 13% growth in the aged care workforce. Pushing forward the requirement to raise this to 215 minutes will blow this figure out further.

Nurses are in short supply across aged care and acute care in general.

Both parties had pointed to the need to recruit nurses from overseas during the campaign, but this puts Australia in competition with other countries that are also seeking to build their nursing workforces.

And the FWC is widely expected to recommend an increase in wages of up to 25% over the next four years – a measure that is anticipated to cost between $2 and $3 billion a year.

When Labor announced its election costings last Thursday – less than 48 hours before polling day – a potential increase in aged care wages was not included.

Shadow Treasurer turned Treasurer Dr Jim Chalmers said this was because it was not possible to cost yet.

“The Government hasn’t costed that either,” he said.

“Scott Morrison has said that a Federal Government would have to fund a future outcome of an aged care wage case. We have said that we support the case and we think that aged care workers are quite substantially underpaid when you consider the value of the work that they do in the care economy.

“Neither the Government nor the Labor Opposition can anticipate the outcome of the Fair Work process in terms of timing, in terms of quantum.”

But the point is this: the new Government will need to find a significant amount of cash to fund its promises – and fast.

With both parties wary of “new taxes”, the only options are to take the money from other sectors that are also in need of funding such as disability and education – or Plan B, ensuring that older Australians who can afford to pay will co-contribute to the cost of their aged care services.

To achieve this goal, there needs to be a community conversation around the need to pay – watch this space.